When a brewery turns 21-years-old, as Karl Strauss in San Diego is doing this year, you can expect the beer to flow freely. Whether that IPA has matured is another matter. Over the years, Squid Ink has often sipped what tasted more like Tuesday night crowd-pleasers than groundbreaking suds at this brewery/mini restaurant chain. Some of Karl Strauss' diaper-days brews, like the Amber Lager and Red Trolley Ale, are, to put it nicely, pretty predictable. Then there's the Pintail Pale Ale, a hoppy pale ale now available in bottles after nine years on tap, notable for the lingering aftertaste of The Teenage Years (translation: fun every once in a while but hardly the dinner party guest type). But recently, Karl Strauss has been turning out some new beers, including Tower 10 IPA and the just-released 21st Anniversary Ale, that are starting to taste a lot more, shall we say, mature.
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That Tower 10 IPA, released last year, has so much hops (and a little extra kick at 6.5% ABV), it tastes more like it was fermented in our neighbor's basement (a compliment, if you're in to super hoppy beers) rather than in a giant stainless steel tank. And the 21st Anniversary Ale, an oak-aged Belgium-style strong ale released last month, gets its sweet, raisin-y finish from the old vine Zinfandel grape juice tossed into the mix. A hefty ABV (10.2%) and a touch of Champagne yeast gives it even more of a wine-like sophistication. Hardly what we've come to expect from Karl Strauss, but then again, turning 21 has a tendency to do that kind of thing.